War graves, munition dumps and pleasure grounds: a postcolonial perspective of Chuuk Lagoon's submerged World War II sites

Jeffery, William (2007) War graves, munition dumps and pleasure grounds: a postcolonial perspective of Chuuk Lagoon's submerged World War II sites. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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The focus of this thesis is the meanings that can be gained from examining the conflicts in the values associated with the submerged World War II sites located in Chuuk Lagoon, Federated States of Micronesia. The submerged WWII sites are representative of the war phase in the history of Chuuk and part of Chuuk’s colonial period. They are valued and used by the three relevant groups, Chuukese, Japanese and Americans in different ways that are indicative of a range of social, cultural, economic and political connections. I have investigated these connections using a postprocessual approach to underwater cultural heritage management to appreciate contemporary societies and issues, and site management.

Understanding Chuukese contemporary societies and issues includes understanding Chuukese local history. After 1,800 years of regional seclusion, Chuukese experienced a number of foreign contacts and colonial rulers. As a result, they experienced a number of changes and adapted and adopted practices for their own benefit. During World War II, Chuuk was utilised as a major Japanese base in the same manner as Pearl Harbor was to the United States of America (U.S.), and Chuukese were dominated by a large Japanese military presence. War and suffering came to Chuuk on 17 February 1944 with the commencement of the U.S. bombing of the base and the associated cruelty of some Japanese military personnel. The base was bypassed by U.S. amphibious forces during their 1944 conquests in the western Pacific and not only left to ‘wither on the vine’, but used in U.S. bomber tests, British aircraft carrier tests, and discussed as a target for U.S. atomic bomb tests.

Chuuk was dominated and Japanized pre-war, which had a number of consequences, including many marriages between Japanese men and Chuukese women. Although there was an initial hatred of the Japanese post-war, many Chuukese today acknowledge their Japanese ancestry and many older Chuukese lament the ‘good’ pre-war Japanese days, as compared to the poor current services and supplies that came after the war.

With the loss of over 50 million lives, World War II was a watershed in ‘world’ history and the bombing of the Japanese base in the Chuuk lagoon was an important historic event in relation to this. But for the Chuukese, this is not ‘world’ history, but their ‘local’ history. This research focuses on gaining an understanding of Chuukese local history, including the values associated with the war and the submerged WWII sites. The need to have a local perspective and to be socially inclusive (rather than objectively scientific) is inherent in this approach. It has revealed that submerged WWII site management takes it cue from Cultural Resource Management (CRM) approaches that privilege archaeological values of sites that are then used to prescribe site management. The Chuuk Lagoon submerged World War II sites are currently managed and promoted according to the dominant Euro-American values, that is, as significant sites associated with the U.S. conquering the Japanese during World War II, and as a focus for international tourism. Chuukese values have not been acknowledged , and while Japanese values are acknowledged, they are ignored. These values can be complex, they can conflict, perhaps especially in relation to those of the Euro-American approach. However, I argue that the lack of Chuukese and Japanese values in this approach is indicative of neo-colonialism, and the continued contested nature of World War II and its remembrances. This investigation has also revealed that conflicts between Chuukese and Japanese values are related to past colonialism and the impacts of World War II.

The value of this research is in demonstrating how a more socially inclusive, less scientific approach in investigating submerged WWII sites, will facilitate better understanding of the range of meanings inherent in this important submerged landscape. It is anticipated that it could result in a more valuable and viable methodology for site management. This research also demonstrates that submerged WWII sites can have value, meaning and relevance for contemporary societies, in addition to their role as repositories of the past. This study has also revealed apparent paradoxes in war sites that both commemorate war and are used as peace memorials, which in association with the conflicts shown in Chuuk Lagoon illustrate the need for less domination and more inclusion.

Item ID: 2068
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: war graves, munitions, wastes, postcolonialism, Chuuk Lagoon, World War II, Micronesia, colonies, Chuuk, Japanese, Americans, USA, cultures, management, heritage, military bases, maritime archaeology, tourism, values, Itang, anthropology, shipwrecks, navy, aircraft, bombing, explosives, artillery, Pacific, recreation, artefacts, diving, dynamite fishing, veterans, preservation, discourses, memorials, reparations, Pohnpei
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2009 04:34
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 0%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210110 Maritime Archaeology @ 0%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies @ 0%
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